"You can't get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me"
State 30: South Carolina - February 19, 2018
We woke up at our cousin Glenn and Michael’s Summerville home, well rested and ready for a brand new day. Yesterday, we partook in traditional South Carolina grits in historic downtown Charleston, and we could not wait to see what additional adventures lie in store today. The first task of the day was a 35 mile drive South to Wadmalaw Island to visit the Cross Country Couple's “Made in the USA” Tour for South Carolina; The Charleston Tea Plantation. Even though it was established in 1987, the roots of the Charleston Tea Plantation run deep predating the founding of our country. Theirs is a story originating in the Orient, a representation of a dream actualized by the enduring spirit of the American farmer, and revitalized today by the biggest names of the 21st century tea industry.
In the late 18th century, the first tea bushes arrived in the United States from China, and over the next 150 years many failed attempts were made to cultivate tea in South Carolina. It was not until 1888 Dr. Charles Shepard founded the Pinehurst Tea Plantation in Summerville, and created award winning teas until his death in 1915. After his passing, the Pinehurst Tea Plantation closed, and over the next 4 decades, Dr. Shepard's tea plants grew wild and free in the South Carolina fields. In 1963, British based Lipton Tea Company, purchased a 127-acre potato farm on Wadmalaw Island, and transplanted Shepard's tea plants from his former Pinehurst Plantation. Over the next two decades Lipton conducted tea research and experimentation on the Wadmalaw Farm.
William Barclay Hall purchased the Wadmalaw Farm in 1987. Hall converted the research and development farm to a full scale commercial tea operation establishing The Charleston Tea Plantation. A 3rd generation tea taster, Hall received his formal training during a four-year tea apprenticeship in London, England. Hall went on to create his original "American Classic" tea, which is the first tea ever made with 100% American grown tea leaves! Over the next 4 decades, American Classic Tea grown at the Charleston Tea Plantation has been cherished by residents throughout the Carolina’s, and even deemed the official tea of the White House. Despite all of the success of the American Classic Tea, an additional capital would be needed to take The Charleston Tea Plantation from a regional treasure to a national iconic brand.
In 2003, Bill reached out to the Bigelow Tea Company; a family run company based in Fairfield, Connecticut with over 65 years of experience in the tea business. A partnership arrangement was worked out, and the Bigelow Tea Company purchased the Charleston Tea Plantation. In the years since, The Bigalow Tea Company expanded the number of tea trees, modernized the equipment, expanded the American Classic Tea offerings to include new varieties and flavors of tea. Most importantly, The Bigalow Tea Company has preserved the charming character of the plantation, which draws 65,000 visitors each year to the only place where tea is grown in America. The Charleston Tea Plantation is so much more than just a cup of tea. It is a working tea farm offering a learning experience unlike any other in the country, and a living piece of American history!
Although Lori has enjoyed hot tea her entire life, I am recent convert from coffee. For as long as I can remember, I have been a compulsive hardcore double fisted around the clock coffee drinker. I once told Lori to bury me with a cup of coffee in my hand when I die! Two years ago, I permanently gave up coffee cold turkey, and began embracing tea which you can read about by clicking here. Needless to say, Lori and I were both thrilled to be visiting the Charleston Tea Plantation to learn how tea is grown, harvested and processed. After all, the next closest tea plantation is 7,320 miles away in China!
Admission to the Tea Plantation and a self-guided walking tour of their production facility is free. However, if you prefer a more in depth tea touring experience, a guided 40-minute trolley tour throughout the tea plantation is available for $12 per person, and promises to bring you the tea experience of your life. We opted to stick with their complimentary self-guided walking tea tour.
Since tea production begins in the fields, we began by walking around the plantation where we discovered hundreds of thousands of tea bushes planted in very straight lines acre after acre as far as the eye can see! All tea is produced from the leaves, twigs and buds of a single plant species called Camellia Sinensis. Camellia Sinensis is better known as the tea plant, tea shrub, tea tree and most commonly called the tea bush. Tea bushes grow from clones of existing bushes in order to maintain a consistent flavor of the tea from season to season. The tea is harvested from May to October in the most interesting manner, and by a very unusual machine. The Green Giant is the machine used to harvest the tea leaves, and is best described as a combination of a cotton picker and tobacco harvester. The Green Giant rolls above each line of tea bushes, cuts off the top layer of leaves from the bushes, collects them, and then they are taken to the factory for the rest of the production process. Essentially the Green Giant is a giant clipper periodically giving the tea bushes a haircut! Unfortunately, the machine was not in use during our visit, and I would have loved to have seen it in action. Please see the pictures below of the only field in America where tea is grown.
After departing the tea fields, we made our way to the plantation's main building containing the gift shop, and through another door leading to the tea factory. This is the magical and special place where tea leaves are transformed into the delicious hot or cold beverage we have all come to love! Best of all, pictures were allowed! Large floor to ceiling glass windows made all of the tea processing machinery easily visible to visitors, and overhead TV’s explained each step of the process from tea leaf to tea bag. The main purpose of the tea factory is to dry the leaves, and a series of machines is utilized to accomplish this task. First, the leaves are laid out for twelve to eighteen hours to wither. Next, the leaves undergo an oxidation process for an hour, and finally they are baked to remove any remaining moisture. After the excess sticks and fibers are removed, the tea is packaged, and ready to drink! The most interesting aspect I learned is the only difference between black and green tea is the length and manner in which the tea leaves are dried. Green tea undergoes little to no drying or oxidation compared to black tea! Please see the pictures below of tea factory.
After departing the tea processing plant, we made our way back to the gift shop to partake in samples of their American Classic Tea and Charleston Tea Plantation tea. The flavors offered for sampling included the regular American Classic Tea, Plantation Peach, Rockville Raspberry, Carolina Mint, and Green Tea. As you can see from my facial expressions in the pictures below, some varieties were quite delicious, and others were just not my cup of tea.
American Classic Original Tea-Sweetened
American Classic Original Tea -Unsweetened
Green Tea - Sweetened
Carolina Mint Tea - Sweetened
Rockville Raspberry Tea - Sweetened
Plantation Peach Tea - Sweetened
Below are additional pictures of our visit to the Charleston Tea Plantation including the worlds largest sweet tea. As you can see Lori made a friend!
After departing the Charleston Tea Plantation, we drove to John's Island for one final stop before returning to Glenn and Michael’s’ Summerville Home; The Angel Oak Tree. The Angel Oak Tree has a 4.6 star rating on Google with 1,062 reviews, and is constantly ranked as one of the most popular attractions in Charleston. According to local folklore, the tree's name is derived from residents seeing the ghosts of former slaves appearing as angels around the tree. The Angel Oak Tree's website (Yes the tree has its own website, lol), states the tree stands 66.5 feet tall, 28 feet in circumference, produces shade covering 17,200 square feet, and from tip to tip its longest branch distance is 187 ft! The exact age of the Angel Oak Tree is the topic of heated debate. Some argue the tree is at least 1500 years old, but the general consensus is the tree is between 400 and 500 years old. The City of Charleston owns the tree along with the 17 surrounding acres.
Nate and I love trees especially very old ones. The energy these ancient giants give off is a powerful and spiritual experience! Hugging a tree has become a cliché, and has taken on a derogatory meaning. Nate and I have hugged quite a few trees on our trip, which you can read more about by clicking here. I once lived in New England where trees were always in ample supply, and I feel ashamed to admit, over time I had come to take their presence for granted. The barren cacti laden dessert of the Southwest, the vast corn and wheat fields of America's heartland, and the cold and desolate plains of the Dakotas are just a few of the locations we have traveled through where trees are unable to exist. It was not until I embarked on my cross country trip did I realize how much I missed trees, and my spirits always feel uplifted when trees are in my presence. However, the Angel Oak is the most spectacular tree I have encountered on my cross country trip. Many of the branches on the Angel Oak actually burrowed underground before reemerging from the earth farther down the limb, and other branches are so old and massive they were artificially propped up to protect the trees massive limbs! Please enjoy the pictures below of the magnificent Angel Oak Tree!
The two days we spent with my cousins Glenn and Michael went far too fast! We had fun with them; walking around historic downtown Charleston, touring the only tea plantation in the US, visiting the coolest tree we had ever seen, watching Judge Judy, eating South Carolina Grits, cooking grilled cheese sandwiches, and concocting an impromptu veggie stir fry. Please see the pictures below.
Glenn and Michael are awesome people, gracious hosts, and the Cross Country Couple gives them both a 5-star rating and 2 big thumbs up! Regardless of where the road before us may lead, we will certainly make a point to keep in touch! Glenn and Michael also love to travel, and it would be fun at some point in the future to do so together. Did I hear someone say Europe? Perhaps when one adventure ends, another begins? First thing tomorrow morning, we must continue on our cross county journey to discover America and find a new place to call home.